Brennan: Monday is a big anniversary

By Tom Brennan |

For me tomorrow is the 57th anniversary of the day I quit smoking cigarettes.

For the world January 11, 1964, was the day the surgeon general of the United States issued his landmark report noting that smoking causes lung cancer, bronchitis and a bunch of other bad stuff.

For me it was the day of the worst hangover of my life and started the day before. My buddy Bob Cabot and I were both reporters at The Worcester Telegram in Massachusetts and were driving north to a ski resort in southern Vermont.

A short time after we left Worcester we passed a tavern and decided to stop in and have a drink. While there we noticed a bunch of pretty girls who were friendly to travelers, smiling and waving demurely. We smiled and nodded at them, but shortly after our glasses emptied we got back on the road. After a while we decided to stop again and repeat the ritual.

By the time we got to our destination in Vermont we were in the swing of things and visited several bars and taverns. Eventually we checked into our hotel and went to bed.

The next morning we woke up so hung over that we realized we couldn’t go skiing. We feared that if we fell, as we surely would on the slopes, we would shatter into little pieces. We sheepishly loaded our gear, checked out of the hotel and headed back to Worcester, our unused skis riding in a rack on the back of Bob’s car.

Besides being hung over, we both felt really guilty about drinking so much that we had to skip the skiing portion of our trip, the part we both enjoyed so much. It was the main reason, a big one, for spending hours on the road and committing a weekend to it.

When we got back out on the road I reached into my shirt pocket and pulled out a cigarette, and Bob turned on the car radio. Just then an announcer declared that the surgeon general had issued a report saying that a new study showed smoking cigarettes caused cancer and other stuff.

I winced in guilty pain, rolled down the car window beside me, crunched up the pack of cigarettes and threw them out the window toward the wooded roadside.

My memory may be faulty in this regard, and I might be compressing the passage of time, but it seems to me that it was only a few years later that people started getting angry about roadside littering. So my residual guilt from that time stems both from drinking away our skiing day and throwing trash into some very beautiful woods.

I never smoked another cigarette though I did switch to cigars as an alternative. There is a big difference between smoking cigars and cigarettes, though a skeptical wife may be unwilling to recognize it. 

Most people inhale cigarette smoke but only people with leather lungs would inhale cigar smoke. While cigar smoke can cause things like mouth cancer, they are less dangerous than cigarettes — at least I convinced myself of that.

My wife wouldn’t tolerate smoking in the house so I only enjoyed cigars when I was walking the dog. Before re-entering the house I would leave the cigar in an ashtray outside the door and pick it up again as we started the next walk.

When our dog of the time grew older about fifteen years ago, I started walking him less often. That meant that the cigars were sitting in the ashtray far longer. Cigars that have been sitting out in the weather for long are problematic. When relit they taste like something you might find under a dog.

One day I started outside with my canine buddy, looked at the ghastly thing sitting in my ashtray, picked it up and relit it, then threw it away in disgust.

That was the end of my smoking. I did it for a long time, but am happy to be beyond such stuff these days. Wish I had never started.

2 Responses to Brennan: Monday is a big anniversary

  1. Elizabeth January 14, 2021 at 8:22 am

    Thank you for a humorous break from current events. So glad you quit as very likely you might not have been here today to entertain your readers. Still I am also wincing at what one could get away with in 1964….😆. While you and your friend were driving intoxicated, I was being punished by a militant kindergarten teacher for removing a broken walnut from a display and eating it. I think I was sent home for that grievous infraction.

  2. R-Dubya January 10, 2021 at 4:48 am

    Very interesting narrative that many should read and share.
    The vices in life people become addicted to can hard to break.
    One of the few bright sides of this past lockdown period has been time to reflect and think more deeply about my personal choices. I’m greatful for the personal changes I’ve recently made, knowing that I’ll live a healthier, more productive and a longer life.


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